- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2010

President Obama and Democratic leaders won key endorsements for their health care overhaul plan Wednesday from an outspoken opponent and Catholic nuns who bucked other Catholic groups leery of the abortion language.

In the first public flip of “no” vote, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich declared he’d set aside his distaste for the measure to help the Obama presidency and in the hopes it is a step toward a more progressive plan he prefers.

“I know I have to make a decision, not on the bill as I would like to see it, but the bill as it is,” the Ohio Democrat said less than two days after his Air Force One trip with Mr. Obama to a health care rally in his home state.

Democratic leaders hope the move by Mr. Kucinich, who voted against the House bill in December, will provide momentum in their drive to rustle up the 216 votes needed to pass Mr. Obama’s top legislative agenda item.

As of Wednesday evening, Democratic leaders were still working with the Congressional Budget Office to come up with a plan that would meet their standards of fiscal discipline - deficit reduction of more than $100 billion in the first decade and $1 trillion in the next decade.

Many fence-sitting Democrats said they were waiting on the bill and a report from CBO, Congress’ nonpartisan budget keeper, before finalizing their vote. Once the bill and CBO numbers are released, House leaders say they’ll wait 72 hours before they hold a vote, pushing their timetable for passage well into the weekend.

Other hurdles still exist as well. Up to a dozen Democrats say they won’t vote for the Senate bill because they say it doesn’t ban federal funding of abortions and many House members are skeptical that the Senate will be able to deliver on a much-needed bill that would “repair” what they don’t like in the Senate’s original bill, such as a tax on high-cost insurance plans.

House Democratic leaders say there is no way to change the abortion language under the complex reconciliation rules they are using to pass the repairs bill through the Senate. Top Democrats have also said they doubt the coalition of 12, led by Michigan Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak, is as strong as he says.

With hopes of convincing at least some skeptics that their bill doesn’t authorize federal funding of abortions, Democrats circulated key endorsements from Catholic nuns and the Catholic Health Association.

Network, a national Catholic social justice group, sent a letter to Congress endorsing the Senate bill and signed by dozens of groups of nuns.

“Despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions,” the letter said.

Senate Democrats are working on their own letter to address another issue: concern among House Democrats that the Senate won’t be able to deliver on the repair bill under reconciliation.

Several lawmakers said a letter or some other kind of assurance is in the works but declined to release more details.

Public polls that show a majority of opposition to the reform plans are weighing on some lawmakers as well. Hoping to buck up House Democrats nervous about their re-election prospects, more than 100 advocacy groups went to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to express their support for the plan. The groups included American Cancer Society and American Academy of Pediatrics.

“This demonstrates the growing conviction that meaningful health reform is essential for our nation and that the cost of doing nothing is much too high,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, which coordinated the event.

Republicans are in lockstep in their opposition to the plan. They plan to force a House vote Thursday on preventing Democrats from tying the Senate bill and the repair bill together into one vote, a symbolic measure that will likely fail. Democrats say tying the bills would help stir support for health reform, but Republicans call it a disingenuous abuse of House rules.

In Idaho, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, a Republican, became the first state chief executive to sign a measure requiring his attorney general to sue Congress if it passes health reforms that force residents to buy insurance.

Similar legislation is pending in 37 other states.

Constitutional law experts say the move is mostly symbolic because federal laws supersede those of the states. But the movement reflects a growing national frustration with Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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